Ads Push to Make Balding Men’s Loss Industry’s Gain

Diane Seo is a frequent contributor to The Times

Balding men, take notice. The battle for your business has begun, with an extra-strength version of Rogaine pitted against a new hair-growing pill called Propecia.

Be prepared for a bombardment of print and television ads this year, as the makers of the two products lure customers with scientific findings, catchy phrases and even testimonials from balding sports stars.

The marketing battle began last month after Merck & Co. received approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to sell Propecia as a prescription drug. In November, the FDA gave its nod to Pharmacia & Upjohn to offer its new Rogaine Extra Strength for Men over- the-counter.


With an estimated 33 million American men losing their hair, but only a fraction taking steps to halt or add to their thinning tops, both companies see huge potential in a largely untapped market.

“If you look at all the hoops men jump through to disguise their hair loss, which ranges from surgery to topical lotions to something that resembles spray-paint, you know not to underestimate the extent of male vanity,” said David W. Maris, an analyst with Aros Securities in New York. “This could be a several-billion-dollar industry.”

Sluggish sales of regular-strength Rogaine and Pharmacia & Upjohn’s overall weak financial performance last year have made it all the more important for the company not to be eclipsed by Merck as the hair wars heat up. Pharmacia & Upjohn will spend $80 million this year to advertise the new Rogaine, using New York ad agency Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor.

Young & Rubicam will handle Propecia’s advertising, with consumer television and print ads debuting later this year.


Merck has been more tight-lipped about its advertising budget for Propecia, which hit U.S. pharmacy shelves earlier this month. But analyst Neil B. Sweig of Southeast Research Partners predicts the drug’s ad tab will be between $50 million and $100 million this year.

Propecia is significant to Merck because the company will lose patent protection on some top-selling drugs within the next few years. And although Propecia represents only one drug in the $23.6-billion company’s portfolio, analysts and investors have big hopes for the much-hyped hair-growth pill for men.


“Our patients are very, very interested in Propecia,” said Paul McAndrews, a Pasadena dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. “We’re getting lots of calls about it.”

Analysts estimate Propecia’s total sales this year to be $300 million to $400 million. Meanwhile, sales estimates for Rogaine Extra Strength are about half of Propecia’s. Analysts consider Propecia to be a more promising treatment.

“Propecia should be more successful, but I’m looking at both products to have strong sales,” Sweig said. “If Propecia’s sales became $400 million or more this year, you can be assured that the product will do a $1-billion business in the year 2000.”

Rogaine’s new ad campaign features sports stars sharing their hair-growing success after using the Extra Strength formula with 5% Minoxidil, instead of the 2% in the regular-strength solution.


Its first celebrity commercial aired after last Sunday’s Super Bowl, with Green Bay Packer Coach Mike Holmgren declaring himself a beneficiary of the stronger Rogaine.

“Every Sunday, I got 60,000 friends staring at my head, so more hair is a big win,” Holmgren says in the ad.


Utah Jazz star Karl Malone will show off his new hair in a commercial to be shot at a barber shop.

“Hair loss is a sensitive subject, so we thought it was important to have well-respected guys on TV who are successful users,” said Ken Vargha, the company’s senior marketing manager. “We’re trying to identify other celebrities who are willing to use Rogaine for a while to see if it works for them.”

The company also plans an extensive print campaign for its extra-strength Rogaine, which arrived on store shelves late last month. One of the ads displays in bold, black print the phrase: “Gentlemen, start your follicles.”

Pharmacia & Upjohn’s biggest challenge is to differentiate the new Rogaine from the old version, which some customers have described as greasy and ineffective. Because of Rogaine’s mixed reviews, the company must not only attract new users, but also convince those disenchanted with the old product to stay with the brand.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to reintroduce Rogaine to the public,” Vargha said. “We’re trying to make people think of it as a breakthrough product because there have been misperceptions about what Rogaine is.”

Meanwhile, Merck’s marketing plan is aimed at both consumers and physicians. The company already has hired sales representatives specifically to market the drug to the medical community, said Tom Casola, Merck’s executive director of the dermatology business group.


Once the FDA approves Propecia’s advertising and marketing plan, the consumer push will get underway.

Appealing to consumers is a key part of Propecia’s marketing because it is different from most physician-driven pharmaceuticals. “Physicians don’t raise the topic with their patients, so it’s up to patients to initiate the conversation,” Casola said.


Both companies also have to convince men to try their products, but not to expect instant results. Men usually have to wait a few months before they see results, and they must use both products for life.

Although Propecia and Rogaine Extra Strength for Men are competing products, they are distinct from each other and have their own pros and cons.

Rogaine is for men who have a general thinning of hair on the top of the scalp, and Propecia targets male pattern baldness, promoting hair growth mostly on the top of the head and the front mid-scalp areas.

Some have complained about Propecia’s cost.. Propecia’s three-month ProPak retails for $145, but includes a $10 rebate, and a two-month supply of the new Rogaine sells for $50. Rogaine is also available without a prescription, making it easier to obtain than Propecia. Rogaine’s worst side effect is itchiness and dryness of the scalp, and 2% of Propecia’s users experienced diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve an erection.


However, some analysts and physicians consider Propecia to be a far more convenient and effective product, because it changes the action of a hormone linked to male pattern baldness. And men simply have to take the Propecia pill once a day, but Rogaine must be applied to the scalp twice a day.

The showdown may come down to a battle over numbers. Already, Rogaine commercials have emphasized that the Extra Strength formula regrows 45% more hair than the original Rogaine. (Regular-strength Rogaine was found to produce moderate to dense hair regrowth in only about a quarter of men.)


Meanwhile, in an ad to appear in February’s medical journals, Merck touted that 66% of men who took Propecia during clinical trials had visible hair growth, and 83% maintained or increased their hair count.

Elliot Felman, a Santa Monica physician who has more than 300 patients on Propecia, considers that drug more effective. “With Rogaine, you get peach fuzz,” he said.

Still, Felman said, some of his patients have had good results using both products together, although there have been no formal studies to determine the effectiveness of doing so.


Heads Up

Consumers will see an onslaught of ads this year for two new men’s hair-growth products, Propecia and Rogaine Extra Strength for Men. The Propecia pill received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last month as a prescription drug, while the FDA approved the stronger Rogaine formula as an over-the-counter remedy in November. Both products are now available to consumers.



Manufacturer: Merck

What it is: A 1-milligram tablet of finasteride, which, in higher doses, is used to treat enlarged prostates

Retail cost: About $145 for ProPak, which includes a three-month supply plus a $10 rebate.

Clinical results: Studies showed that 66% of men who took Propecia had visible hair regrowth, while 83% maintained or increased their hair count

1998 global sales: $300 million to $400 million (analysts’ estimate)

Advertising budget: Between $50 million and $100 million (analysts’ estimate)

Advantages: Found to grow visible hair in two-thirds of men; comes in pill form so it’s easy to take

Disadvantages: Requires doctor’s prescription; about 2% of men could experience loss of sexual desire


Rogaine Extra Strength for Men

Manufacturer: Pharmacia & Upjohn

What it is: A 5% Minoxidil topical solution

Retail cost: $50 for starter kit, which includes a two-month supply. One-month supply retails at $30.

Clinical results: Studies show 45% more hair growth than with regular-strength Rogaine, which produced meaningful results in only about a quarter of men


1998 global sales: $150 million to $200 million (analysts’ estimate)

Advertising budget: $80 million

Advantages: Less expensive than Propecia; side effects limited to itchiness and dry scalp.

Disadvantages: Must be applied to scalp twice a day; messy